When I was a boy, my dad worked at Hobart Brothers in Troy, Ohio. Besides making welding machines, during World War II, they made ground power units for airplanes, searchlights, and electric motors, all materials needed by the US military. When I was a little older, we had moved to farming in Southern Ohio, and we had three of their electric motors. Dad said they came labeled as 1 ½ hp, 2 hp, and 3 hp. He had originally bought a 3 hp one, but when he learned that the division that manufactured them made them all exactly the same and merely labeled them differently, he bought the cheaper "1 ½ hp" versions. These were not modern "T-frame" motors. About 20" in diameter and 28" long, they would not begin to fit within the T-frame dimensions for motors of their horsepower today.
In the garage in our home is a mounted air compressor that feeds the compressed air system I installed in our home many years ago (everyone has compressed air conveniently located throughout their homes, don't they?). This compressor is rated at 5 hp by the manufacturer. When you pull the plastic shroud off the top of the machine, one is looking at a motor that looks like it was built for a small high school science fair project. Yet, somehow the manufacturer had done the math to be able to state it is 5 hp. This air compressor, tank, and all its appurtenances doesn't weigh what one of those behemoths form Hobart's weighed.
It is clear from the motive end as well as the consuming end, we have been able to reduce the weight of machinery and still get the same job done. In fact, that is what our Light Green Machine Institute is all about--doing more with less. Aluminum dryers, lighter frames, more efficient steam systems.
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One of the earliest successful attempts at reducing energy use in the pulp and paper industry was the Tomlinson recovery boiler, which was able to recover the heat and chemicals from the chemical pulp digesting process. We have never slowed down in our efforts to reduce energy consumption in the pulp and paper industry since it invention many decades ago.
The simple still matters, too. Just a few years ago, I was asked to consult with the R & D department of a famous cellulose products company. They were trying to design a plant that would be labor intensive (for it was to be built in a country with very low labor rates) yet would live up to world class health and safety regulations. One of the problems with the product they were manufacturing was that it was a discrete product (think ceiling tiles, for instance) that required a lot of handling of stacks of product--moving a stack from this location to that location, for instance. They way they had solved the obvious human strain of this work in a 1st world environment was to use robotic arms to move the product. They couldn't figure out what to do--robotic arms were too expensive and not cost justified in the new location.
My solution was simple--build the plant on a hill, heck make a hill if you must. Then have the raw materials delivered to the uphill end of the plant and the finished product output at the lower end of the plant. So, with appropriate steps in the plant, the workers are always moving the product downhill. Much less human strain opportunities. As far as the energy cost to take the raw materials to the top of the plant to start with--incalculable in the big picture, and to the transportation company's cost anyway.
As designs continue to evolve, energy costs will continue to decline, regardless of their root costs. We don't have to do anything emotional or nonsensical about energy costs, just continue to think of better and more efficient ways to do things with less energy.
No matter what we do, we will always have to think about the dangers of the potential energy. It is hard to LOTO (Lock Out Tag Out) potential energy dangers such as my hillside plant described above. It takes on the spot thinking to minimize these sources of danger, one of the most common examples being a strongback for a crane. Always make sure these are placed in the least potential energy position when at rest.
Be safe and we will talk next week.
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